Staying motivated to achieve your goals

We’ve all had to learn pretty quickly the importance of being flexible and adaptable to change. But even with this handy life lesson about ‘pivoting’, staying motivated to stick to your training regime can still be tricky when event plans change. 

Fortunately, research has discovered a range of science-backed strategies for getting your mojo back and staying on track towards achieving your health and active living goals. 

Here are our five favourite ways to stay motivated: 

1. Grab a fitter friend

Training or exercising with a friend is great way to stay motivated – you’re far more likely to turn up to that 5:30am run on a cold and dark morning if you have a friend waiting for you. Plus, it’s always easier and more enjoyable to get in the zone and stay motivated if you have friends or family to join in with you. But it can be even more motivating if that person is fitter than you!

Why would you want to exercise with your annoying buddy who always beats you, even if only just? Wouldn’t that be demoralising? Not according to some research, which has found when exercising or training with others, performance can be determined by whichever person stops exercising first when exercising with another person fitter and stronger than themselves. If you’re the competitive type this technique might bruise your ego a little, but the boost in performance and motivation you could gain may be well worth it!

2. Prep your playlist

Many people choose to listen to music while exercising, but could music be the motivation you are searching for to help keep you on track? If that’s a yes, music could be your saviour. With research finding music having a positive effect on physical activity providing a range of psychological, psychophysical (e.g. reduced rate of perceived exertion) and physiological benefits, resulting in improved motivation and exercise performance.

One study published by the Journal of Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that listening to music during your workout really does help you stay motivated and perform better. Researchers found when study participants listened to upbeat music, they performed better and enjoyed their exercise session more than those who listened to a podcast or to nothing at all. Ahead of your next exercise session, listen to an upbeat playlist, and watch your motivation and performance rise to the challenge.

3. Brains love novelty

Regular participation in physical activity is important for establishing an exercise or training routine, which in-turn helps to make participation in physical activity a habit of daily life. While creating routines, physical activity habits are important motivators for sticking with your exercise and training sessions. Research has found a strong association between enjoyment and participation, and that in particular our brains love novelty.

Introducing novel exercise activities into your regime on a regular basis, such as playing an interactive video-game session (exergaming), enrolling in an online exercise class or having a go at walking football are all science-backed strategies for boosting your motivation to stick to your usual training regime. Those novel activities including a social component (e.g. playing with friends) can provide an extra motivational boost.

The next time you’re asked to join your local ultimate frisbee or disc golf tournament, play an active virtual reality game or a friendly game of street hockey – say yes! Not only will you have a lot of fun participating in these novel experiences, it could also help spur you on towards achieving your running goals and help you keep active and healthy leading up to your next event.

4. Have a purpose

People start participating in physical activities like walking or running for a variety of reasons. Some want more energy, to improve their health (for themselves or their families), compete in races or try something new. But if you’re running without a reason, it can be easy to lose your motivation to keep participating in physical activity on a regular basis. If you were training for an event and plans have changed, it’s important not to lose sight of why you wanted to do the event in the first place.

This will help to build your levels of intrinsic motivation and keep you moving. For example, your reason for running could be to raise funds for a worthy cause and help people in need. Each training or exercise session leading up to the event offers an opportunity to remind yourself of your purpose of helping others, which can reinforce your motivation towards sticking with your training plan for the event – because living purposefully can’t be put off for even one day.

5. ‘Be’ not ‘should do

When it comes to long-term motivation, your identity can play a strong role in helping you to lead an active lifestyle. We’ve all been in the position where we start thinking we ‘should’ go for a run or go to the gym, but we end up doing something else instead. That’s because ‘should-do’ motives are terrible in sustaining exercise behaviour.

A more effective approach is to re-frame your thinking to ‘be’ someone who exercises, rather than someone who ‘should do’ exercise. This type of thinking requires much less mental effort compared to constantly trying to convince yourself to exercise. And by re-framing your thinking, you’ll become someone who naturally seeks out, and is drawn to opportunities to exercise. As these opportunities allow you to demonstrate and express your ‘exerciser’ identity.

You’ll find this simple switch in mindset will result in you parking your car a little further away from your destination so you can walk more that day, morning and afternoon teas becoming ‘mini movement’ breaks, and walking meetings becoming the norm. Best of all, your morning run or walk around your local park or neighbourhood will change from being another thing squeezed into your to-do list, to becoming an appealing opportunity for movement each day.

Please remember: If you are new to physical activity, have a health problem, or are concerned about the safety of being (more) active, speak with your doctor or health professional about the most suitable activities for you.